They say there are two happy days in every boat owner's life -- the day he buys his boat and the day he sells it. I wasn't even allowed the first. The day I brought my used 17-footer home on a trailer my mentor in things outdoorsy, a crude fellow with no sense of timing at all, inspected the rig and offered this assessment: "Fine, you have a nice boat. But the motor is old, the trailer is weak and your car probably won't last long towing it. You'll be all right once you get a new outboard, a new trailer and a new car." The outboard blew up on cue a few months later, but I was able to replace it for only a few months' take-home pay. A few weeks after that the leaf springs on the trailer gave out on a bump on the Beltway. The left side of the trailer plunged down onto the frame, the boat crashed onto the fender, the fender dropped onto the tire and the rig came to a screeching, burning, right- curving halt. I spent about an hour in the mud and the blood and the beer along the side of the Beltway before I managed to remove the fender and shim the boat up high enough to limp home. I probably should have bought a new trailer, but instead I got the old one rebuilt. A few weeks later my mentor rode along on a four-hour trip to the lower Bay. On the way I made pointed references to how well the little six-cylinder outfit was holding up, despite all his negative predictions. He nodded, smiled and said, "We'll see." We spent two days fishing and camping on an uninhabited island and came back emptyhanded, but refreshed and relaxed. I backed the trailer down to what seemed like an appropriate place on the ramp, pulled the boat up and cranked it onto its cradle. My mentor furrowed his brow. "I think you went back a little too far on the ramp," he said. "Nonsense," said I. When the engine was screaming at the required 8,000 rpms I snapped off the emergency brake and engaged the clutch, but nothing happened. Nothing, that is, except for the sudden presence of a pervasive odor of burning asbestos as the clutch plate melted. It took the Onancock Fire Department and a few good men to get us out of that jam. And I started looking at new cars. Do you have any idea what these things cost? For a proper tow vehicle you really need four-wheel drive. Some ramps are so good you could pull a tugboat out with a Volkswagen; others consist of a couple of logs embedded in quicksand. You never know which is which until you're in it. My first choice for a four-wheeler was a Ford Bronco, just because my mentor has one and he is never wrong. But the guy at the dealership in Laurel said he'd just delivered one to a customer for $13,200, which when I was kid was the gross national product of Tanganyika. "Think used," I thought. In Hyattsville a man had a '79 Chevy Blazer with only 10,000 miles on it for $7,000. But when we went to look at it, my wife had to get a stepladder to get in. It had a lift kit, headers, dual exhausts, a 350 V-8, a burglar alarm, AM-FM, and when you started it up it sounded like amateur night at Beltsville Speedway. He said he felt certain I could get 10 or 12 miles to a gallon if I drove it carefully. On the test drive I watched the gas gauge plummet while idling at a red light. "A diesel!" I thought. GMC had a new diesel coming out that was rated for towing and would get 20 miles a gallon in a four-wheel drive. But the truck man at Curtis Chevrolet could only guess at the price tag. "It's gonna have to be $16,000, $17,000," he said. So here I am, stuck between that familiar nautical rock and a wet place. Billy, the world's greatest mechanic, ha complete with pilings and lines, "so you can tie it up and feel better about it." I've bought a little gadget that hooks the garden hose to the outboard so you can run the motor on land without burning it up. Once a week or so I walk out to the curb, remove the canvas boat cover, hook up the hose and start the motor. I stand at the helm, gunning the engine and imagining myself schussing over a light chop on my way to the rockfish grounds in the Chesapeake Bay. There is one benefit: In my mind I never get skunked.